Sunday, September 30, 2012

Dealing with Grief in the Kingdom

For those of you who don't know, my grandmother recently passed away. I was very close to my grandmother and it was a really hard time for me, especially because I was constantly doing battle with the administration to get leave to go see her.

When I first heard she was sick, I wasn't too worried, because she's been in the hospital before and, to me, my grandmother has an iron-clad will. In my mind, nothing short of a volcano could alter the fact of her existence on this earth.

When I first understood her condition to be serious, I had a seriously terrible time dealing with it. The first night, after getting the news I went out on the roof of my hotel and sat under the desert moon. I guess I figured if it was my grandmother's last night on earth I would like to see something she could see too.
I wrote a list of everything I was going to miss about her – which was a long list, to be honest – and I ended up sleeping out there because there was a beautiful desert breeze going.

Here is a little excerpt from my ruminations of my Yiayia:

Things I will miss about Yiayia:

- The way she always says 'dearheart', like she had to mash together two different endearments in order to adequately express her true affection

- The way she would forget I don't speak Greek and would tell me things in asides that I'm sure were hilarious.

- The way she had such a tender heart and the suffering of even the most removed person affected her so deeply.

- The way I had to cross out the 'effected' I wrote first instead of 'affected' in the last one because she was an English teacher and she would be appalled at the bad grammar.

- How she used to carry a box of Dunkin' Donuts on her lap, on the plane, all the way to Africa, just because my brother and I were missing them.

- How she kept everything in tiny jars and tins in her pantry and never wasted a scrap of anything useful.

- The way she acted every time I showed her how to use Facebook, like I was the best teacher in the WORLD and she finally understood everything.

- How her love was unconditional and usually came with food.

- The way she loved to read

- The way she loved to paint

- The way she loved everyone.

At about 5am, the sun rose and the call to prayer made it more or less impossible to sleep.
The next couple of days were not easy. I kept on getting updates on my grandmother, nothing good, and I kept on slamming my head against the brick wall of administration to try to get the leave in time to see her. I made regular trips to the prayer room in order to cry in the corner.

Finally, I got the email. The one that said she had taken her leave less than two hours ago.

My first instinct was to go someplace quiet – typically I head for the bathroom. But in general the bathrooms here are too busy to really be a place of solace. So, I headed for the prayer room.

After having a muffled cry in there, I deemed myself fit for the public so I went to the bathroom to wash my face. The second I step out, I run into my friend Mary who asks me, casually, "Are you all right?"
People have taken to asking me that, because everyone on campus seems to know about my grandmother from one avenue or another.

My response, of course, was to burst into tears.

Mary insisted I come to her office for some tea (she's British, it's genetic) and for a talk. But her office, like mine, is also the office of about a dozen other people. So, I found myself in the middle of a room of people, crying my eyes out.

When I first came here, the gender separation thing bothered me. But since then, I've been working in a building with all women and it does something to a person. It's honestly a pleasant atmosphere… most of the time.

So, me, crying in the middle of a group of co-workers not only broke my streak of only crying at work when I work at camp, but also didn't feel so weird. I got a back massage and a lot of candy. I got prayers for my family in three different languages and a lot of dire threats aimed at the administration for keeping me here when I clearly needed to go.

Nancy, a woman from Somalia, told me that in Islam they had a saying – Truly we belong to Allah and to Him we shall always return.

That night, people were constantly coming and going from my room. Everyone wanted to know if I was okay and when my flight home was.

This job is worth doing, I decided, for several reasons. But the most important of which is the people I work with. Or really, the ones I live with. Let's not get too crazy with including the Savanna girls in there.

The Magda girls made me feel like I was with my family and I can't thank them enough for that.

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